Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cook for Two Whistles

Having assisted at the Viking Cooking School with a "Taste of India" class I was inspired to prepare my own taste at home for my best friend aka my hubby. We have friends from India and occasionally they will give me packets of spices and such to use. So I got out a packet of Parampara Chhole Gravy mix and set about preparing the dish along with samoosa's and naan.

Knowing that my friend uses her pressure cooker for many of their meals, I decided that I would use mine. I placed the soaked chick peas and contents of the gravy packet in my PC and secured the lid. I then read the cooking instructions on the packet to determine just how long to cook the chick peas. Imagine my surprise when I read, "Cook for 2 whistles." What in heavens name is 2 whistles? I got out my PC book to check whether it said anything about whistles. No such luck. So I hit the Internet and googled "cook for two whistles" and lo and behold I found the answer.

Apparently this cooking instruction is based on the Hawkins pressure cooker of India. Indian PC's whistle periodically to let off steam many many cooks use this as a rough guide to time the recipe. According to the information I found two whistles is about 15 minutes of cooking once the pressure has built up.

So I cooked my chick peas for two whistles and they were a bit underdone for our tastes, but tasty nonetheless. I can't wait to see my friend. She'll be impressed that I know what "cook to two whistles" means!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dread or Pride?

Did you make this? These words can bring dread to the heart of any chef. Recently I catered a rehearsal dinner at which the bride requested cheesecake for dessert. I have a great cheesecake recipe, one that closely resembles the cheesecake served at Lindy's (now closed) and Juniors, a Brooklyn landmark. But when that question was posed to me by one of the guests, I immediately wondered what ingredient I had left out of the recipe. I answered that yes indeed I made, not purchased, the cheesecakes and waited for the other shoe to drop. To my pleasure, and relief, she raved about it being the best cheesecake that she had ever tasted. I should have never second guessed myself. I knew that I had prepared a great product, but still those words "Did you make this?" were enough to...well you know what I mean.


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 cup (about 6) crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, finely ground

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup cour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan.

To make crust, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add graham crackers crumbs and nuts and stir until mixed. Press the damp crumbs evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Set aside.

To make the filling: With a mixer, beat the cream cheese until soft. Gradually add the sugar alternately with the eggs, beating on low speed just until smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla and gently mix until smooth. our the filling over crust and smooth top with a spatula.

Place pan on the middle rack of the oven. Set a large, flat baking dish containing 1-inch of water underneath the cheesecake. bake for 45 minutes (don't peek), or until set in the middle. Turn off the heat but leave the cake in the oven for 20 minutes longer. Remove to a rack and let it cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight before serving.

Source: Cooking USA, 50 Favorite Recipes from Across America

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Always Love A Challenge

I am always one for a good challenge, whether it's a game, new adventure or in the kitchen. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance who asked me to prepare a duck dinner for ten in late March...and they would like the duck prepared two or three ways. Now just because I had never prepared duck gave me no reason to decline the invitation. So with the confidence of someone that frequently prepares duck, I heartily accepted.

I decided that I would develop a menu showcasing the duck in three courses, appetizer, salad, and entree. (I haven't been watching Top Chef all these years for nothing!) I scoured my recipes and many from the Internet and decided to make Beggar's purses filled with duck, dried cranberries and raisins as an appetizer, duck confit on a bed of wild greens and mushrooms as the salad, and pan seared duck breast with a red wine reduction for the entree. Before presenting this menu to the client, I first ran it past my friend Ahmad Nourzad, the executive chef at Affairs to Remember Caterers in Atlanta. Having received his blessing, I proceeded to 'practice' using a whole duck. Once I was satisfied that the menu was not only tasty, but beautiful, I met with the client. She was ecstatic! She was so thrilled with the menu that she asked me to prepare a menu card to enclose with the invitations.

Trois Fa├žons de Canard

Home of Sharon and Barry Marcum
March 28, 2009

Appetizer Course

Duck, Cranberry and Dark Raisin filled Beggar’s Purses
Gourmet Cheese Selection
Sun-dried Tomato Spread
Selection of Gourmet Crackers

Salad Course

Duck Confit on a Bed of Wild Greens and Mushrooms drizzled with Lemon Vinaigrette

Main Course

Seared Duck Breast with a Red Wine Reduction
Fillet of Beef Tenderloin with a Port Wine Reduction

Butternut Squash Risotto
Haricot Verts seasoned with Lemon Zest and Olive Oil

Dessert Course

Lemon Tart accented with Fresh Raspberries

As I have said in earlier posts, Regis, my husband, is my food critic. He approached the tasting with the mindset that he was not going to like it because he is not usually fond of duck. By the end he not only said that it was superb, but that I could prepare it for him again ! That is the highest compliment. Of course I'll "dress" the plate for the clients but in my test kitchen I am a minimalist. I'll let you know how it goes. From my vantage it's going to be a "quacking" success.

From the whole duck...

to the pieces...

to the final product.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Best Valentine's Day Ever

I had the best Valentine's Day ever this year and it didn't even include my husband. I know this sounds strange so let me give you some background information.

On January 16th I read from my Atlanta USPCA member's board about a client wanting a chef to prepare a dinner for two. Another chef had been contacted but was unable to fulfill the request and placed it on the board for the rest of the chapter. The dinner was to be held on Valentine's Day some 95 miles away from where I live. Both could have been negatives, but not for me. As I read the information about what the client wanted I learned that he would be returning from a tour of duty in Iraq and wanted to surprise his wife. I knew then that I had to be the one to cook for them. It did not matter the distance I would have to travel, that I would not be home with my sweetie on Valenetine's Day or even the money I would earn. It became personal to me as I have a son serving in the Army and is stationed in Iraq.

Through the magic of the Internet we connected and made initial arrangements. Over the next weeks we corresponded about the menu, and our plan began to take shape.

The day finally arrives and I arrive at their home ready to hit the floor running. My client, Ronnie, had taken his wife, Stacie, to visit his family so I could get things in order before they arrived home at 6 p.m.

The table was complete with china, silver, crystal and a vase of red tulips. The appetizers stuffed cherry tomato appetizers where chilling in the refrigerator and the apples were caramelizing in a pan as they arrived. They walked into the kitchen and I introduced myself and told Stacie that Ronnie had hired me to prepare a special Valentine's Day dinner for them. I wish I had my camera handy because the look of shock and utter delight on her face was priceless. It was a moment to save in time.

While Ronnie ran out to pick up wine, Stacie quickly called a girl friend to brag on her husband, knowing that the girlfriend would see that the word got around about their special evening. Stacie was stunned that Ronnie kept the dinner a secret. But the secret he kept and the evening was a stunning success.

I can't express how honored I felt to be a part of a his homecoming. I am reminded each and every day that the personal freedoms I have are due to men and women who choose to serve in the armed forces. I am also keenly aware that the families who share their service members with the rest of the world deserve our respect and thanks too. So to both Ronnie and Stacie I say, thank you.

Ronnie and Stacie's Valentine's Day Menu

Shrimp and Fresh Corn Relish Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
Caramelized Pears over Warmed Camembert served with French Baguette
Artichoke Pancakes with Field Greens, Goat Cheese and Finished with a Lemon Vinaigrette
Salmon Baked in Grape Leaves
Turkish Pilaf with Tomato
Fried Lemon and Zucchini Salad
Profiteroles with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Warm Belgian Chocolate Sauce

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Easy as 1-2-3

Several years ago I read an article in the local paper on how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey using only three ingredients. The article guaranteed a moist, succulent, perfectly cooked turkey. This of course meant you followed the recipe and threw out old notions of getting up at the crack of dawn to insure that the main event would be ready in time for the mid-afternoon repast. While I did not prepare the recipe, it wasn't my year to cook the turkey, I did find the idea of preparing wonderful meals with only three simple ingredients intriguing.

With Christmas fast approaching, I added the cookbook, Recipes 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold, to my list. To my delight, I found this wonderful resource under my tree on Christmas morning. It has been an invaluable tool in my cooking arsenal. Using just this one cookbook you can prepare a three-course dinner for six and still go through the express checkout!

Imagine a slow-braising leg of lamb with forty cloves of garlic in a wine-dark broth of Cotes du Rhone or salmon baked in briny grape leaves. From appetizer to dessert, Recipes 1-2-3 will provide you with an abundance of choices. I find myself pulling it from my shelf every time I have a dinner to prepare for a client. I have never been disappointed and more importantly, neither have my clients.

One of my favorite recipes from Recipes 1-2-3 is grilled veal chops with yellow tomato coulis and basil oil. It is super easy and when paired with the tomato coulis, vibrant haricot verts, and creamy mashed potatoes makes a beautiful presentation.

Grilled Veal Chop, Yellow Tomato Coulis, and Basil Oil

Rib veal chops, each 1 1/4 inches thick
Basil Oil
Yellow Tomato Coulis

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season the veal chops with salt and freshly ground pepper. Brush lightly with the basil oil.
In a well seasoned cast-iron skillet, sear the veal chops on both sides until browned. Finish cooking in the oven until done, about 15 minutes.
Divide to tomato coulis evenly on the plates. Top with the veal chops and spoon more basil oil over the top.

Serves 4

Yellow Tomato Coulis

12 ounces large yellow tomatoes, blanched and peeled
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Cut in large pieces. Place the tomatoes in a blender, add the oil, and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 3/4 cup

Basil Oil

1 large bunch fresh basil
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Remove the leaves from the stems and wash. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute. Plunge in ice water. Drain and gently squeeze the eater from the basil. Place in a blender. Add oil and puree until smooth. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate.

Makes 2/3 cup

Should yellow tomatoes not be available, the veal chop is equally delicious with red tomato coulis

Wondering what wine to serve? A luscious red Italian with with a touch of berry fruit partners well with this dish. Try a Rosso di Montalcino. For something French, open a Rully Rouge, a medium-bodied wine with a true Burgundian bouquet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back to Reality

As I sit huddled in a hooded sweatshirt, a mug of steaming tea at my elbow, and a heater at my feet, I realize that I am once again back in my real life. My big adventure of running the Phoenix Marathon has been completed and the good news is that I finished on under my own power, thanks my awesome sister, who was a fantastic coach.

So today, I will once again get to the business of growing my business. I had a pretty good December and February looks promising, but I know that I have to be more proactive than I was in '08. True, much of a personal chef's business comes from referrals, but one can't count only on those referrals to keep the income coming. Face to face interaction is important. Making your services known to other businesses is critical. Having your name the first one they think of when they have a need is the goal. Even in today's tough economic times there is a market for personal chef services. You just have to do the footwork to find it. And so another type of race begins...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Springtime in January

I have the great fortune to be spending a few days in California with my niece, escaping the sunny but cold temperatures of Atlanta. Capri's and short sleeves are the dress of the day.

Tomorrow my niece and her mom, my sister, and I will fly to Phoenix so that she and I can run in the Phoenix marathon. This will be my first and my sister's seventh. I have trained hard since June and am looking forward to the challenge. My goal is to finish with no injuries, regardless of the time. Our plan is to complete it in 5 1/2 hours.

When I began this adventure I could not imagine running for that length of time. I still can't, but today I know that it is possible. I have had some physical challenges that has not always made training easy, but I stuck with it and know that when I cross the finish line on Sunday I will feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

Will I do it again? It's hard to tell. I like the results of constant training so as I begin celebrating my 53rd year on this planet, I'll say it's a distinct possiblity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Recipe Redux

Atlanta weather is back to being cold, well in the 40's and that's cold to us, so I decided that I would pull out the slow cooker and put together the makings for some comfort food. I have a great cook book, Slow Cooker cookbook, published by Cooking Light and have always had a satifying meal from the recipes I have tried, until yesterday.

I decided on Chicken Brunswick Stew and for once I had everything on hand! I followed the recipe to the letter, plugged in the old crock pot and waited in anticipation for a delicious meal. Seven hours later, the dish was completed and we sat down to dinner.

Given that I had not made this recipe before, I depended on my personal food critic, aka "the husband", to give me honest feedback. This time I didn't even have to ask him because before he could say anything I had already rated the recipe as "needs improvement". The immediate issue, for me, was that the dish was way too sweet. This is the same comment my husband made; followed quickly that it didn't tast bad, just too sweet. He asked if I follwed the recipe or made substitutions since perhaps I didn't have all of the correct ingredients. He knows me so well. Assuring him that I used exactly what the recipe called for I began trying to determine the cause of the sweetness. The recipe calls for creamed corn and chili sauce, both sources of sugar so I concluded that these two ingredients led to a less than satisfactory recipe outcome.

I am going to prepare the recipe again, but make some ingredient modifications. Hopefully this time the outcome will be more like and entree rather than a chicken dessert. Below is the recipe as printed. Changes that I'm going to make follow the recipe.

Chicken Brunswick Stew

5 cups chopped onions
6 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
2 (14 1/2 - ounce) cans no-salt-added cream-style corn
2 (14 1/2 - ounce) no salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 (12 ounce) bottle chili sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

Place onion in a 4 - 6 quart slow cooker; top with chicken. Add corn and next 9 ingredients (through pepper sauce); stir well. Cover with lid; cook on high setting for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low-heat setting; cook 6 hours or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken; shred and return to stew. Ladle stew into bowls; sprinkle with additional black pepper, if desired. Yield: 9 servings (1 1/2 cup servings).

NOTE: Be sure to use the hot pepper sauce that contains whole peppers packed in vinegar rather than the red-colored hot sauce.

Lana's changes: reduce cream of corn soup to one can, use half (6-ounces) of the chili sauce, and increase the black pepper to 1 teaspoon.

I'll let know about round two. If you do make either version of this recipe, I would love to know what your thoughts are.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Mother's Joy

My son Jack is in the Army and is currently deployed to Iraq. This is his second tour; the first one being only four months. He left on December 1, 2008 and will return about the same time this year. He loves the Army and is excited about serving his country. See Jack believes that everyone has a right to think and speak their own thoughts and he is here to see that they keep that right.

We had not heard from him in a while so when my cell phone rang at 5:40 a.m. this morning I knew that it could only be him. Unfortunately I did not get to it before it went to voice mail. He did call back a short time later and we were able to get our web cam set up so we could see him. The picture wasn't the greatest and there was a bit of delay in the transmission, but we could have cared less. Sitting at the computer in our pajamas and seeing our son's face was the greatest thing we could imagine.

Mail delivery has been an issue for him, but he did finally receive his Christmas box. Since he can't wear civilian clothes and there are limited places for him to go, I sent silly stuff to him, like a package of plastic drinking cups with the University of Georgia's logo on it and chemical activated hand warmers. I also sent the makings for his favorite fruit salad Five Cup Salad, or Jack's Salad as it is known to us and countless friends. I thought that maybe he would feel a little closer to home if he had something he knew we would serve on Christmas. I'm certain that you have this or a variation of the recipe, but it has been in my family for as long as I can remember. It always is on the holiday menu, regardless of the holiday. For those of you who may not have the recipe here it is:

Jack's Salad (aka Five Cup)

1 can mandarin oranges. drained
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sour cream
Mix ingredients together and chill for at least two hours. A variation to this is to replace the pecans with one cup of coconut.

Now I don't know how he solved the sour cream issue; perhaps he talked a mess cook out of some. Hopefully he was able to have a little slice of home in a far away place.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Perfect Lemon Bar

One of my favorite sweets to offer to clients are lemon bars. I have been using my mom's recipe for many yeas, but I am always searching for new recipe that has just the right 'gooyness' yet firm enough not to fall apart when you pick it up. This can be challenging since I usually double or triple the recipe.

I needed lemon bars for a client's Christmas party so I pulled out a few of my cookbooks and began looking for a recipe. One of the cookbooks was Texas Tapestry, by the Houston Junior Woman's Club. I was given this cookbook and a gift bag of "all things Texan" (says the girl who flies the Texas flag at her home in Georgia) while attending a cousin's wedding in Houston. You know the kind of cookbook, tried and true recipes of the club members.

Well I do believe that I have found the perfect lemon bar recipe from this cookbook; sorry Mom
Here is the recipe as printed. Any changes I made follow the recipe.

Lemon Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup

2 cups sugar
4 beaten eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar

In large bowl, sift flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture clings together. Press into a 13x9x2-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly brown. For filling, beat eggs, sugar, and lemon juice; add flour and baking powder. Pour over baked crust and bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool completely.
Yield: 30 bars

I spray the baking pan with non-stick spray and line it with parchment paper. Once baked, I let the entire pan cool and then lift out onto a cutting board for easier cutting. Once cut I sprinkle each bar with powdered sugar. You can also cut these into fingers, especially if you are serving several desserts.